As FierceHealthcare's Karen M. Cheung recently put it, accountable care organizations are a lot like unicorns: Everyone wants one, but many believe they are a myth.
But there are examples of existing, successful ACOs already, such as Atrius Health in Massachusetts. Although the six-group organization had a head start in its transformation with years of experience of payment under capitation, what sets it apart is its reasoning for wanting to be an ACO, according to Michael Chamberlain, president of Lean consulting firm Simpler North America, which helped Artius with its ACO pilot.
Many organizations target ACO status for the wrong purpose, Chamberlain told Healthcare Finance News. "They want to transform care, which is the right reason," he said. "But if you're just in it to chase dollars, it will not be sustainable." He added that Atrius's "continuous quest for personal improvement," in particular, made it an organization for others to watch.
A major, often-overlooked aspect of how ACOs can do better relates to whether they create a meaningful experience for patients, internal medicine and emergency physician Patricia Salber wrote in a post appearing on KevinMD.com. She quoted a colleague as saying, "I worry that we will once again forget that patients, people who use the healthcare system, want to feel cared for … they want to feel valued."
Although most practices by definition do value their patients, it can be difficult to tell whether they're truly hitting the mark. With 5 million lives and counting now covered by ACOs, the stakes are too high for organizations to wait to find out whether that value is being delivered, Patrick T. Ryan, CEO of performance-improvement company Press Ganey, said in a company announcement.